I have several servers running on the same machine, some with http only, some with both http and https. There are several server blocks defined in separate files which are included from the main config file.

I have set up a "default" server for http which will serve a generic "maintenance page" to requests that don't match any of the other server_names in the other config files. The http default server works as expected, it uses the server_name "_" and it appears first in the list of includes (because I have observed that in the case of duplicate server_names across servers, the one appearing first is used). This works great.

I would expect the same exact server block (only switching "listen 80 default_server" to "listen 443 default_server" and also instead of serving page "return 444") however it does not. Instead, it appears that the new default https server is actually grabbing all incoming https connections and causing them to fail, although the other server blocks have more appropriate server_names for the incoming requests. Removing the new default https server will cause semi-correct behavior to resume: the websites with https will all load correctly; but the websites without https will all be routed to the first https server in the include files (which according to the docs, if no "default_server" appears, then the first server block to appear will be "default").

So my question is, what is the correct way to define a "default server" in nginx for ssl connections? Why is it that when I explicitly set a "default_server" it gets greedy and grabs all connections whereas when I implicitly let nginx decide the "default server" it works like I would expect (with the incorrect server set as default and the other real servers behaving correctly)?

Here are my "default servers". Http works without breaking other servers. Https breaks other servers and consumes all.

server {
    listen 443 ssl default_server;
    server_name _;

    access_log /var/log/nginx/maintenance.access.log;
    error_log /var/log/nginx/maintenance.error.log error;

    return 444;

server {
    listen *:80 default_server;
    server_name _;
    charset utf-8;

    access_log /var/log/nginx/maintenance.access.log;
    error_log /var/log/nginx/maintenance.error.log error;

    root /home/path/to/templates;

    location / {
        return 503;

    error_page 503 @maintenance;

    location @maintenance {
        rewrite ^(.*)$ /maintenance.html break;

Any of you see what might be wrong here?


You do not have any ssl_certificate or ssl_certificate_key defined in your "default" https block. Although you do not have or want a real key for this default scenario, you still need to configure one or else nginx will have the undesired behaviour that you describe.

Create a self-signed certificate with a Common Name of * and plug it into your config and it will start to work as you want.

The "default" behaviour under this set up would be that a browser would get a warning that the certificate can not be trusted, if the user adds the certificate as an exception, the connection will be dropped by nginx and they will see their browser's default "could not connect" error message.

  • 1
    I've tried this but it still doesn't work: All ssl requests to the IP go to my other ssl host. Anything else I could try? – Michael Härtl Aug 18 '15 at 11:17

I managed to configure a shared dedicated hosting on a single IP with nginx. Default HTTP and HTTPS serving a 404 for unknown domains incoming.

1 - Create a default zone

As nginx is loading vhosts in ascii order, you should create a 00-default file/symbolic link into your /etc/nginx/sites-enabled.

2 - Fill the default zone

Fill your 00-default with default vhosts. Here is the zone i am using:

server {
    server_name _;
    listen       80  default_server;
    return       404;

server {
    listen 443 ssl;
    server_name _;
    ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.crt;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.key;
    return       404;

3 - Create self signed certif, test, and reload

You will need to create a self signed certificate into /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.crt.

Create a default self signed certificate:

sudo openssl req -x509 -nodes -days 365 -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.key -out /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.crt

Just a reminder:

  • Test the nginx configuration before reloading/restarting : nginx -t
  • Reload a enjoy: sudo service nginx reload

Hope it helps.

  • 2
    Doesn't solve the browser warning of visiting an insecure site. – gdbj May 8 '17 at 16:38
  • 5
    Can't be resolved since a catch-all must match any domains. No SSL can wildcard all domains. Imagine if you're spoofing google.fr address on your server, you will be able to authenticate your server as google.fr. It would be a serious security issue :( – Ifnot May 9 '17 at 14:22
  • Ya, I guess that makes sense. Unfortunately in Chrome, you are presented a scary warning before seeing the 404 page which is worse than having the server simply reject the traffic. Makes it look like the server is misconfigured. – gdbj May 9 '17 at 14:43
  • Thank you very much. This worked for me, except that I had to add default_server for listen 443 and I added the IPv6 address [::]:80 and [::]:443 with default_server. – chmike Apr 17 '19 at 12:45
  • mkdir /etc/nginx/ssl was required first for the openssl command – wal Nov 14 '19 at 3:07

We basically want to avoid at all cost that the first server definition in our config file is served as a catch-all-server for SSL connections. We all know that it does that (opposed to http and using default_server config which works nicely).

This cannot be achieved declaratively for SSL (yet) so we have to code it with an IF...

The variable $host is the host name from the request line or the http header. The variable $server_name is the name of the server block we are in right now.

So if these two are not equal then you served this SSL server block for another host so that should be blocked.

The code does not contain specific references to your server IP addresses so it can easily be reused for other server configs without modification.


server {
    listen 443 ssl http2;
    listen [::]:443 ssl http2;

    ### Section: SSL

    ## Check if this certificate is really served for this server_name
    ##   http://serverfault.com/questions/578648/properly-setting-up-a-default-nginx-server-for-https
    if ($host != $server_name) {
        #return 404 "this is an invalid request";
        return       444;

  • could you explain what the listen [::]:443 ssl http2; does? i'm having trouble finding documentation for it. – Andrew Brown Aug 9 '16 at 15:31
  • I think I found it, just needed to know what to search for. IPV4 and IPV6 directives. – Andrew Brown Aug 9 '16 at 15:39

To elaborate more on the Radmilla Mustafa's answer:

Nginx uses 'Host' header for server_name matching. It does not use TLS SNI. This means that for an SSL server, nginx must be able to accept SSL connection, which boils down to having certificate/key. The cert/key can be any, e.g. self-signed.

See documentation

Hence, the solution is:

server {
    server_name _;
    listen 80 default_server;
    listen 443 ssl default_server;

    ## To also support IPv6, uncomment this block
    # listen [::]:80 default_server;
    # listen [::]:443 ssl default_server;

    ssl_certificate <path to cert>;
    ssl_certificate_key <path to key>;
    return 404; # or whatever
  • I feel that this should be the accepted answer. Many thanks. – aggregate1166877 Apr 15 '18 at 23:46
  • Simple, clean configuration and works perfectly. Thanks. – mahfuz Nov 15 '19 at 9:39

To anyone who lost as much hair over this as me (spent nearly whole day on this today). I have tried almost everything, and the thing that made it finally working correctly was this stupid line:

ssl_session_tickets off;

Building upon Ifnot's answer, my working example is:

server {
    listen 443 ssl http2 default_server;
    listen [::]:443 ssl http2 default_server;
    server_name _;

    ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.crt;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/ssl/nginx.key;
    ssl_session_tickets off;

    return 404;

I have no idea why this was necessary, the only principle I derived out of this was that nginx behaves very strangely when we don't give him what he wants.

  • 1
    you are a legend. – Nizar Blond Feb 11 '19 at 17:03

If you want to be absolutely sure, then use separate IP addresses for hosts which should not answer on HTTPS and hosts which should. This also resolves the "invalid certificate" browser warning problem.

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